Burleigh County Court nearly caught up on case backlog

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Those at the Burleigh County courthouse are just now catching up on a backlog of cases caused by a suspension of jury trials from March to July of 2020.

When asked what that time was like for attorneys, Burleigh County State’s Attorney Julie Lawyer said “chaos.” Lawyer says nearly double the number of trials were scheduled from January through May of this year.

“We would maybe have 10-15 trials set amongst all the attorneys in the office between the two judges that had their trial weeks that week,” Lawyer said.

Lawyer says the court’s docket from the first few months this year had 20-30 trials scheduled in a day, but it should be mostly resolved by the end of this month.

“We’re getting over that hump now where we had all of those trials that we were trying to catch up on so it is kind of coming back to a manageable amount,” Lawyer said.

Although the backlog is being resolved, the pandemic has left its mark on the judicial system.

Trials are live-streamed on YouTube for the public, and those who want to watch in-person have limited seating.

“Jury box is now the witness stand, jurors sit in gallery where the public was,” Lawyer said.

Not only that, but construction will begin on a new third courtroom in September, which Lawyer says should help cut the caseload even more. Plus, holding smaller hearings via Zoom for initial appearances and pretrial dispositions has also helped.

“There are fewer incidences of not showing up because there’s not car problems they have to deal with or anything like that so there have been some positives that have come out of that,” Lawyer said.

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